Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘encouragement’

I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

“Hello down there!  Slow going?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

Slow going down here in the blog world.  I have two book reviews to post, and a blog written up about laughter, even one about football. 

“This is not as easy as it looks.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

My blog is published on two different host sites: Blogger and WordPress – neither of which have been cooperative recently.  Blame might be shared by my own laptop and internet provider, as well.  And when I have been on my computer, late into the nights and early mornings, my work has been directed towards by business, the one linked on the sidebar here but rarely mentioned.  It has a new name, new look, and even some new products coming just as soon as I can get the pictures taken. 

“I don’t suppose you could speed things up?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

Three years ago I started this business, hoping to learn a lot about business and accounting without going to school, needing something to do with the extra money I had lying around, and of course wishing to earn enough income to stay home full time.  Self-discipline is something I can do, but only with encouragement.  And sometimes, when things are just too hard, I actually need help. 

Large Mi-Re-Do Business Card

“Throw me the rope.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Some of my good friends have been encouraging me lately.  They also have their own business.  We had a long talk about believing in our products, about wanting to make sure that we’re not selling junk, but to be willing to settle for marketing goods and services that won’t revolutionize the world.  My brother asked me why I think people should have what I’m selling.  Questions like that make me think, and usually when I think, I get answers, which turn into the blurb about each item that appears on my website. 

Assistance has come in concrete ways, too.  Several of my friends have advertised for me and referred acquaintances to my business.  The friends above are going to print my government-regulation-required care and contents tags.  And my brother even offered to help with some HTML for my webpage

“I do not mean to pry, but you don’t by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

One of the other goals for my business is to build relationships with customers (thereby changing the world – I just can’t escape that motive!).  Sometimes all it takes is opening the conversation, however unexpected or odd. 

“I’m not left-handed either.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Running a business is a risk.  Putting my creativity out in the world for judgment is scary.  I could lose money.  I could waste time.  But there is power in the unexpected.  That’s what I’m trying to offer on my website.  For sale is an eclectic supply of handmade and home-designed accessories that are unlike anything the rest of the marketplace has to offer.  Some taglines I’m using or toying with are: “Mi~Re~Do: Reviving Declining Melodies” and “Buy Mi~Re~Do.  Tilt your perspective.”  By thinking through the practical and aesthetic worth of my products, I’m trying to change the way my customers think about – and live – ordinary life. 

“Get used to disappointment.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Still, it’s been three years, and though I’ve sold several items on Ebay, and ventured into Etsy, I have almost zero client base.  I have designed several business cards, and been too timid to hand them out.  Marketing is nonexistent.  And my room is overrun with unsold inventory. 

“I’d just as soon destroy a stained-glass window as an artist like yourself…” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Artists and dreamers cannot be kept down.  We will keep creating, used to our disappointments but pushing forward anyway.  Companies will succeed because they persevere where others failed, and offer goods that others don’t.  When Buttercup cried, “We’ll never survive!” on the margins of the fireswamp, Westley the eminent business coach countered, “Nonsense!  You only say that because no one ever has.” 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

Marriage is like dancing with no music.  There is still an art, and still the beauty; there is also that dimension of more going on that you have in dancing.  But instead of the music being enough to give a girl an idea of where life is going, there is none; she must simply follow.  Give and take, go and come.  Trust.  Responsibility.  Cry for help.  Confidence.  Smile her delight.  Swing out, spin in.  Submit.  Dance. 
 
The hobbits watch in dreamlike fixation as a woman beautiful beyond their experience weaves her way around the table, in and out of the kitchen, gracefully dodging a man equally unique to the hobbits: big, clumpy, capering and energetic.  Styles so different, the two manage to make a fascinating dance of contrast and complement. How do they make it work?  What force prevents collision? 
 
Tom Bombadil sang about his lady when he thought no one was listening, and when he knew they were following, straining for his every word.  He praised her as beautiful and trusted her to be ready with hospitality.  Brave and free, each with few friends, the couple shared life and interests with each other.  Perhaps many nights were spent crafting a tale to spell his lady.  He gave her gifts and she did the washing.  They each remained who they had been before they met, but they sacrificed things and changed also, making a brand new life together.  When the hobbits asked Goldberry about her husband, she spoke with quiet respect, “He is the master.”  Perhaps there is no satisfying explanation of Tom Bombadil because he was a man who needed to be known rather than described.  There are no memorized steps of the dance with him.  Their house is full of the comforts of community: ready beds, generous tables, and long conversation by the fire.  Goldberry and Tom knew the value of relationship. 
 
Main characters in Lord of the Rings are unmarried.  Nine companions, the fellowship of the Ring, had the freedom to risk their lives and tramp across the world because they were not married.  A man or two was moving towards marriage, dreaming of the woman he’d left behind.  Tolkien was a real romantic, the kind who understood the pull of adventure and of chivalry, as well as of courting and of marriage.  This last is not too common in literature, that real married couples would be glimpsed in story and lifted up for their simple virtue and hard submission.  Immensely happy in marriage to Edith himself, this author did not shy away from representing marriage in his stories. 
 
Another example is found in The Fellowship of the Ring before the hobbits encounter Tom Bombadil.  Still in the Shire, they meet a hobbit couple, the honored Mrs. Maggot and her intimidating husband, Farmer Maggot.  It’s a dreadful name to inherit, let alone acquire, so Mrs. Maggot must have loved her husband, and made the most of it.  She too embodied hospitality.  Spin in.  Feeding a large working farm and family of sons and daughters, she didn’t mind at all to include three hungry strangers at her table, presenting them with heaping helpings of farm fare, mushrooms, and good homebrew.  Farmer Maggot was a good provider, a defender of his property – maybe less because of what it grew than of whom it harbored.  And when in the service of doing what was right he risked his own safety for newfound friends – this round hobbit reminiscent of the American rednecks – his wife stood at the door and cried out for her husband to be careful.  Swing out.  This isn’t just something people say.  Do you see women encouraging their husbands to do the right thing even though it is dangerous?  Do you hear people in unhappy marriages nervous about the other’s safety?  No, it comes from a heart of love, natural – yes, and common but only because the simple heart of marriage is common.  Isn’t that how it should be? 
 
There are other examples, men and women whose wedded bliss was interrupted by wars, disease, or accident.  Take Frodo’s parents.  Rumors ran wild that Drogo didn’t get along with his wife, and that she thought his girth was too large even for a hobbit.  They died together, though, out boating – and as far as the Gaffer was concerned, that was their only crime.  It left Frodo to the wildness of youth, an orphaned rascal living with an extended family too big to take good care of him and to teach him responsibility.  This again was the implication given by the sturdy gardener, who had carefully raised his own son under his eye and apprenticeship.  What an unlikely beginning for the Ringbearer, whose sense of responsibility called him into the darkness, surrendering forever the possibility of home!
 
Elrond’s marriage does not appear to have been happy.  His wife early (well, thousands of years into their relationship) grew weary of their home and left.  Why didn’t she stay for him?  Why didn’t he go with her?  Should he have gone, the Halfelven whose work was so large in preserving the Middle Earth for which his father had risked much more than happiness and comfort?  Should she have stayed, enduring without music, just for the following?
 
Many characters seem to have lost their mothers or fathers early, including Samwise, Frodo, Aragorn, Boromir & Faramir, and Eowyn & Eomer.  It was a hard time, and even marriage did not guard against sorrow and loss.  This is evidence that Tolkien’s ideal of marriage was not unrelated to the real world in which he moved.  His stories exemplify love and commitment in the midst of the hard times to which we can relate. 
 
Another splendid example of the exertions of marital love and the roles each person takes is the marriage of Earendil and Elwing.  Earendil, on behalf of his people, sought to reach the undying lands and plead for the help of the Valar.  He was lost at sea, hopeless, when his elven wife flew to him in the form of a white bird with a silmaril at her breast, and, lighting the way to Valinor, saved her husband and delivered his mission from doom.  He initiated risk, and she accepted the separation and the danger.  In this story the husband led the way on a mission to save the world (as all husbands should), and she supported him with strength of her own and encouragement.  I believe the story goes that the couple now above Middle Earth sails till time ends, in the heavens, her silmaril doomed to light the way for all men as the evening star. 
 
Many people in Tolkien’s tales are related to Luthien and Beren, who stole that silmaril from the crown of Morgoth.  Luthien was the daughter of Thingol (a high elf, one of the first to see Valinor) and Melian (a Maia).  Their marriage is another inspiration.  King Thingol loved Melian and worked his whole life to make her happy.  But he also respected his bride and took her advice.  This position Melian wielded to moderate her husband’s temper, thereby making him the best man, father, and king that he could be.  Ruling together, they preserved and protected a kingdom of peace, beauty, and, until fate started to unravel the spell of protection Melian had woven around Doriath, of justice. 
 
Thingol and Melian’s marriage is somewhat reminiscent of Celeborn and Galadriel, both strong and wise, with strong claims to the leadership of their people.  Yet they ruled peacefully side by side, together attending councils of the wise.  Again they both offer hospitality, but are cautious to protect their country against harm, for love both of land and of friends inside.  All the wives in Tolkien are beautiful, and all the husbands are valiant.  But not all the men are wise, nor are all women hospitable.  Celeborn and Galadriel represent together the best of Tolkien’s ideal.  They are happy and sad, serious and celebratory.  They are wise and strong, beautiful and kind.  People love them and follow them, not only in war, but also in peace.  Memory is important, and yet there is always curiosity to meet new things.  And so it ought to be in marriage.  Such I believe was Tolkien’s experience. 
 
My favorite marriage in Tolkien is one that hadn’t yet taken place.  Eowyn was independent; she was not free – not because she was a woman at home, but because she wanted things impossible for her to have.  Faramir pushed, and she took a small step away.  He pulled and she came close.  Before she knew what was happening, the simple steps were increasing in difficulty until she cried out, “My hand is ungentle!”  The princess grew frightened in the face of love and submission, though she had stood proud as the shieldmaiden of her king even against an enemy as terrible as the Lord of the Nazgul.  She cried out to one who seemed to know what he was doing, who was leading her into a place where she was less confident, where her only choice was to follow.  And the crying out was trust.  Her heart changed, or at last she understood it.  She chose freedom, stepped willingly away from her independence, and chose to love, like her partner, to see things grow well.  “Then I will wed with the White Lady,” he laughed.  She smiled her delight, and on the wall of the city their hands met and clasped, and they faced darkness and light together. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn 

Read Full Post »

Friday was one of those days in one of those weeks from one of those months.  My closest friends are out of the country or on their way out.  One will be gone for a whole semester, to the blissfully romantic Oxford, the Oxford in England, full of history and literature, thought and conversation.  In England there is rain, there is beauty, there is architecture, there are accents!  What’s more, she’s going to study worldviews in a small class of 9 Christian young men and young women, doing life with them.  Already she sends home emails reveling in happiness beyond her expectation. 

On Friday I was feeling rather alone and untraveled.  Autumn is here with an air of adventure, and none has knocked on my door.  But God is quite the gracious Giver of good gifts.  He blessed me with hours of conversation in the evening.  Friends gathered and the casual conversation was whether God changed His mind, and the way He ordains intercessors for us against His wrath.  Then we officially talked about jealousy, but we didn’t say much on that topic.  What actually happened led into a discussion on grace and glory, predestination and the rights of God versus the rights and capabilities of man. 

Even though we didn’t delve into jealousy, our text was 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Charity suffereth long and is kind.  Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”  Charity, or LOVE, does not envy.  It is not jealous.  Love is the call of all Christians towards their neighbors.  Jealousy prevents us from entering into their happiness in the way Paul describes in Romans 12.  The simple reminder that love is my call was enough to convict me of my attitude towards my friend.  So I decided to rejoice with her.  (I really am absolutely delighted for her experiences, and excited for their impact!) 

But the grace and the lesson didn’t end.  Deciding to rejoice with her, I was yet challenged by my friend’s confession of happiness.  Her email bubbled over with enthusiasm for life and people, and happiness at being where she was.  Once she even wrote she can’t remember the last time she was so happy.  When was the last time I was simply happy?  What did it look like? 

The privilege and delight of seeing a friendly face can light my face with a smile, and untroubled happiness.  Knowing God is in control and He’ll take care of the details is blessed happiness.  Knowing I am blessed is reason to be happy.  And I am so blessed.  So I set out to be happy. 

Saturday I went to Steeling the Mind Bible Conference, put on by Compass Ministries.  I imagined the happy me, which is much easier to live out when brought to mind!  Should I see a friend, I would be happy.  Should I spend the day with my dad alone, I would be blessed.  Should I get encouragement in my walk with God, I would have assurance that He was heeding my days.  And He was.  He let me know. 

For example, the second-to-last speaker was a woman raised as a Muslim.  One of her many points was that Muslims live in fear, not only of non-Muslims, not only of “monsterous” Jews, but even of each other.  Women obviously fear men, who have essentially absolute power over them.  They also fear the envy of others, by which the jealous party would, they superstitiously believe, put a curse on them: the evil eye.  Envy and fear of envy separated the community, leaving no room to trust anyone.  Jealousy is a serious issue. 

In the British Isles, there is rain.  Here the past week we have had rain more days than not.  Friday night it rained.  Saturday night, too.  I’m afraid to sleep for missing some evidence of God’s grace reminding me that “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”  But even sleep is a peaceful, cozy gift. 

This morning at church we watched part of Beth Moore’s teaching on the Blessing of Asher.  Asher is a Hebrew word translated either Blessed, or Happy.  Leah named the second son of her handmaid Asher, after years envying Jacob’s love of Rachel and jealousy over his affection.  At last she simply named a son “happy,” content and blessed, going forward straight on the way, fruitful.  And Beth Moore taught us not to be responsible for the happiness of others (or of ourselves!);  happiness is a gift by the grace of God, so we ought to seize our happy moments, with gratitude. 

A friend blessed me with a compliment when I needed the encouragement, and her husband even offered to help diagnose my poor car whose Service Engine Soon light has been on and off for over a year (but I haven’t found a good mechanic to fix it).  My day was really too amazing. 

After church I sat in a meeting of youth leaders, pondering the high school girls small group of which I’m a part.  And I realized that I’ve been running around, forgetting to be God’s vessel, forgetting the blessing it is to share life with these ladies, forgetting that when I walk with God, I will want to and be able to connect with the girls in love.  There doesn’t have to be a formula or a schedule.  If I want to see them, this won’t be a burden.  In my life I’ve observed that happiness (and pain at times, and many other things besides) comes through people, through fellowship, through getting deeper into relationships and community.  Do you realize what release I remembered and reclaimed? 

Finally, on my way to visit my aunt in Greeley, CO (and my grandparents and a few cousins, an uncle and another aunt), I was riding in our big, truck-like van, watching light glint off the ring that reminds me of God’s presence and claim on my life.  So often I ask Him for things, but today I thought of the way characters pray sometimes in biblical dramatization novels by the Thoenes: “Blessed are You, O Adonai, who…”  So I started.  God is blessed for being, for doing, for giving.  Blessed is He for knowing the end from the beginning.  Blessed is He for ordaining good works.  Blessed is He for holding my friends in His strong hands.  Blessed is He for being my sure refuge and comfort.  Blessed is He for the blood He shed, and for reminding me of His faithful covenant through the Lord’s Supper this morning.  Blessed is He for the celebration that the Lord’s Supper is and represents, the community of saints waiting for the Beloved.  Blessed is He for hearing my prayers.  Blessed is He for being Almighty. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »